A relative had a terrible shock recently: he opened the newspaper to see the obituary of one of his childhood best friends. They lived close to one another, went to the same school, and spent almost all their free time at one another’s houses. Now his friend was gone in a tragic, sudden accident.
My relative hadn’t spoken to his friend in a long time. He always meant to, of course. But he was busy. He assumed his friend was busy. He had a family, and you know how these things go. No time. Or you just don’t think of it. Then you do think about it, and you think: tomorrow.
But what if, instead, we thought today?
Here’s another story: I had a tricky question only one particular person on Earth could answer for me. This person happened to be one of my best friends from high school, whom I have not seen since graduation day (which was a long fucking time ago). We had only talked on Facebook a few times in all those years, but I messaged her anyway and asked if I could call her. Just hearing her voice made me laugh, because it was so many years of familiar.
“You have an accent now,” she teased me.
She still laughed the same.
I asked her my question and got the answer I needed. And then we stayed on the phone for another twenty minutes while I sat in my car in the Target parking lot. We talked about kids. We talked about being in the Target parking lot alone. We made arrangements to start this massive project together based on this conversation. It just fit together.
At the time, my oldest friends who really counted as more than “people I used to be friends with” were two guy friends and two ex-boyfriends, all from college and early grad school. Granted, these are ride or die friends. The kind of friends you call when you’re two hundred miles from home and your car dies on the side of the interstate (yeah, that happened once, and he picked my ass up, too). But no one knew me when I was younger. Before age, say, 19, I was a blank slate to everyone I saw regularly other than my own mother. But I envied my husband, who had a huge group of friends from college, friends from high school and grade school. Cousins he stayed close to. A brother he talked to daily.
In the few months since I talked to my friend from way-back-when, she’s become one of my best friends again. It’s strange: something ridiculous will happen, and I’ll think, “Man, I have got to tell Trish about this.” Nevermind that she lives almost 700 miles away. If we haven’t messaged each other all day, one of us will text or Facebook the other and say, “We’ve been quiet today. Everything all right?”
The funny thing is, I probably could have gotten the damn answer to my question over Facebook and left it — she’d have thought I was weird, but she’s thought that since we were 14, so no worries about that. But I took that chance and made the phone call. I’m so grateful every day that I did.
Chances are, the friend you haven’t talked to in a decade (or more) won’t die tomorrow. And if you call them, these old friends probably won’t wind up your new-old BFF, unless you’re super lucky. But you’ll have the satisfaction of catching up. I got that when I happened to call and interview an old friend from college a few months ago. We had important stuff to talk about. We did that in half an hour. We spent the next hour and a half catching up. It meant so much to me just to hear her voice, to hear what she’s doing, to remember how alike we really are, how much she and I understand each other. Every time she pops up on Facebook, that memory makes me smile.
These are people who meant something important to you once. You owe your old self the chance to let them be important to you again. And maybe they’ve changed, and maybe you’ve changed, and maybe it turns out that there are just memories between you. And that’s okay. It’s still nice to hear that person is still … there, in a strange way.
More likely, though, you’ll find that you have something in common with those old friends. One of my best childhood friends lives an impossibly far distance across the country, but she’s become the same kind of hippie mom I am. A college roommate, whom I don’t talk to often, lives closer. I miss her terribly. I love to hear her talk about her job, her travel. We don’t have as much in common now, but I still care a lot about her.
I have literally never reached out to an old friend and regretted it. There have been times I’ve been ignored, and that sort of sucked. But in every case, my life got richer. If nothing else, I spent a very pleasant time catching up with them. In Trish’s case, I got someone who yells, “WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL ME?!” (all caps) when I said I had a bad day yesterday.
“I didn’t want to call you on the phone and just cry at you,” I said.
“Well, you’ve done that before.”
I wasn’t sure if she meant the time I broke up with my senior year boyfriend and called her crying incoherently while I drove home down the interstate, or if I’d done it in the past few months.
I don’t think it matters very much. She was there then, and she’s here now too.